Last weekend, in between the English Touring Opera’s concerts at Snape Maltings , I squeezed in an envigoratingly blowy morning on the Orford marshlands, stretching out into the North Sea and silvered by a lurking sun.
Although now a remote village, home to summer visitors, some local fisherman and Pinney’s oysterage and smokery, medieval Orford was a flourishing port and market town. It had its own castle, built in the late 12th century by Henry II, and a fine church. It was entitled to send regular representatives to Parliament and, in 1579, was granted a charter which incorporated the town as a free borough with a common seal and with power to hold property and to hold a court.
However, this prosperity was not to last. In the early 17th century increasing boat size made it difficult to navigate through the shifting shingle bar at the tip of Orford Ness and caused a downturn in the fishing industry. By 1722 in his Tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain Daniel Defoe described Orford as a ‘once a good Town, but now decayed’.
But although the town remained a quiet backwater, Orford Ness, the spit of land which stretches from Aldeburgh down to Orford village and is now a National Trust wildlife reserve, was, from 1938 to the mid 1990s, an important military site. Across the river from the village you can see the stark remains of experimental military sites peppering the promontory. First used between 1938 and 59 for firing trials (tests on the fragmentation of projectiles employed old London telephone directories to determine how far the fragments would penetrate) and then, into the 1990s for atomic research, the buildings now sit like some abandoned theme park stretching out into the sea.
Closer at hand, seaweed has draped the protective posts along the shore turning them into some mad witches dance….
…while the mud has taken on colours and patterns rarely seen on less desolate beaches. This one greened by the seaweed….
…. this one silvery and reflective.
If you would like some slow – although horribly wind-noisy – watching, here are few minutes of the River Ore flowing by.
And…… as a slight aside – can anyone tell me whether these guys discovered in a field behind the marshes are geese or swans? They look remarkably like swans (afraid that I could not get any closer to them) but do you find swans wandering around in a field miles from relatively fresh still water?